“I never thought when I graduated from the Portlaoise College of Beauty and Complementary Therapies in 2005 that in five years’ time, I would be the new owner”, Sharon says proudly. “I knew I would run my own business one day but having this opportunity was just a dream come true. And take over the college she did in 2010 and rebranded it as the Sharon Leavy College of Hair & Beauty.
The college offers a wide range of high-level qualifications in the Hair and Beauty industry. Among the many programmes on offer at the college today is the CIDESCO Beauty Therapy Diploma which is the course of choice for most students. This is a full-time comprehensive course and is recognised internationally as one of the best Beauty and Spa Therapy qualifications. The College also offers ITEC programmes, Barbering and Hairdressing Courses. They have also added short specialist courses - Make-Up Artistry, Massage & Body Courses and Nail Therapy.
When Sharon took over the college in 2010 it had been running successfully since 1997. Sharon wanted to build on the success of the college and set about introducing new programmes and looking at ways to improve the student experience. She wants her students to enjoy the college experience but also to come away with a valuable qualification in order to set them up in a future career or business.
Taking over the college was not plain sailing, as Sharon admits. There were many challenges in the first year in continuing to build the business and moving forward with her new vision for the college. Sharon believes that she learned so much about herself in this first year and found that her determination and resilience paid off.
She puts this determination down to a number of experiences; the primary one being when she worked with Steiner, the largest global provider of spa services for international cruise liners. “I made it known at the outset when I joined Steiner that I was interested in a management position,” Sharon says. “They have very high standards and I knew that I would learn a lot from Steiner on how they run their business”.Sharon did end up in a management role and said it was like running your own business, as the Steiner Spa was a stand-alone business on the cruise ship. It was a great experience working with Steiner on so many different levels so from this she added the Steiner Conversion course to her college portfolio.
To start up her own business, Sharon used her personal savings, took out a small loan from the credit union and got some help from her family. She was very mindful that it is important for a small business not to borrow too heavily as all the money needs to be paid back and it can cause considerable stress on any business owner in their first three years.
She has an open door policy where students can come in and discuss any concerns they have about meeting deadlines, etc. “I’m their Mentor”, Sharon says. “I will be there for them right through the programme and beyond. I have past students who may call for advice on interviews or setting up their own business and I am more than happy to help them and share my experience”. It is this type of support she believes that sets the Sharon Leavy Hairy & Beauty College way ahead of her competition.
Sharon realised at the early stages that in order to succeed she had to surround herself with like-minded people. It was all about her team and if you had the right team behind you, nothing could stop you from going from strength to strength. Since she has taken over the college, she has worked hard to build up a strong team. She does admit that while at times she may not have got it right now her team are as equally committed as she is. They all work together toward a common goal of ensuring the student experience continues to be at the focus of everything that they do.
If Sharon was to start over again she said that she would do nothing different, as she firmly believes that you have to learn as you go. She also believes that challenges, particularly in your first year, only strengthen you and you build up a strong resilience to not only overcome the challenge but a determination to keep going.
The future looks very bright for the Sharon Leavy College of Hair & Beauty. Sharon is looking at online blended learning as part of her overall 3-year business strategy. There are also plans to start an Alumni for the graduates to not only help them build a community but offer events with industry expert speakers. “We also plan to run a Scholarship in the future”, says Sharon. “This is our way of giving back to society”.
If there were ONE piece of advice Sharon would give to someone starting out it would be; “Mind your money”, she says. “You need to build up a strong cash flow to grow your business and give you peace of mind. Listen to your intuition; it will never let you down”.
Find out more about the Sharon Leavy College of Hair & Beauty by visiting their website www.collegeofhairandbeauty.ie. Sharon can be contacted directly by email on firstname.lastname@example.org